Archbishop Gerald Lacroix, seen here receiving his pallium from Pope Benedict, is one of the new breed of Quebec bishops expected to bring the Church's distinct voice into the public square.


Archbishop Gerald Lacroix, seen here receiving his pallium from Pope Benedict, is one of the new breed of Quebec bishops expected to bring the Church's distinct voice into the public square.

September 26, 2011

MONTREAL — When Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd came to the microphone after his Sept. 10 ordination, he paused, his smartphone in hand, pressed "Send," and announced: "I just updated my Twitter account: It's official. I'm a bishop."

One day shy of his 41st birthday when Montreal Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte ordained him, Dowd already had established himself as a blogging priest, adept in social media and the new evangelization.

His blog and Twitter account now follow his service in the episcopate.

Turcotte also ordained Auxiliary Bishop Christian Lepine, 59, who, when it was his turn at the microphone, shared a simple message of the love of Jesus Christ, spoken with joy, his face alight.

"Jesus Christ tells me, tells us, that he has the power to make us children of God, brothers and sisters by his divine grace," he said, with conviction, as if extending a warm invitation.

These latest ordinations represent part of a sea change in the Quebec episcopacy as a large cohort of bishops in the province have reached, or will soon reach, the retirement age of 75.

For McGill University historian John Zucchi, many in this cohort shared a similar reading of the Second Vatican Council and a nationalist vision that rooted them in the Church of the 1970s.

"That kind of vision, which I think has been very much there in the background over the last generation, is slowly going to dissipate or disappear," he said.

What has been absent since the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, "has been the Church as a protagonist," in the wider society, he said. "The bishops have been quite silent; quite often they said things that society likes to hear, but often have not said things that run counterculture."

The "don't rock the boat" strategy has meant the distinct voice of the Church in the public square has often been missing," Zucchi said. "This will probably be one change we're beginning to see already and that will probably continue into the future."


The changes continue: on Sept. 11, former auxiliary bishop of Montreal Andre Gazaille was installed in the Nicolet Diocese. On Sept. 29, Valleyfield Bishop Luc Cyr will be installed as Sherbrooke Archbishop, replacing Archbishop Andre Gaumond. Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ebacher is expected to retire in October; and Turcotte himself reached retirement age in June but he is expected to stay on for the immediate future.

In November, Trois-Rivières Bishop Martin Veillette reaches age 75; in December Mont-Laurier Bishop Vital Masse reaches retirement age.

In his homily at the ordination of his two auxiliary bishops, Turcotte said, "The bishop, who becomes a pastor like Jesus, thinks big and sees the big picture. He has a heart open to the world."

"He does not turn his back to the culture of the day. He examines it and he loves it, seeking to discern in it the presence and signs of the Holy Spirit."

In the past, bishops may have chosen a different method of speaking to the culture by finding ways to address principles through scientific data or sociology, but Zucchi thinks Quebec society is ready "to be surprised by someone who speaks from a very simple position of faith."

"I think we've come to the point where a lot of the ideological debates in the general population are past and people simply are looking for something truly new in their lives and are ready to be surprised by something truly new," he said.

Zucchi noted that Turcotte and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, when he was Quebec archbishop, both crossed the linguistic and cultural divide and reached out beyond a more insular vision of the Church.

Some of the older cohort of Quebec bishops had been more "closed in" and focused on internal Quebec concerns and had "less of an openness to outside influences because of these concerns."


New bishops, including Quebec Archbishop Gerald LaCroix who replaced Ouellet earlier this year after the cardinal was assigned to head the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, have been more involved in the world outside Quebec, Zucchi said.

LaCroix, for example, did missionary work in Latin America.

"The Church of the '60s and '70s is not the Church of the 2000s, and they are more attuned to the movement the Spirit has raised up in Quebec," he said. This includes an openness to new movements, both homegrown such as Famille Marie-Jeunesse, and from outside such as Focolare and Communion and Liberation.

Though charges of "integriste" or fundamentalist may still occasionally fly against bishops considered orthodox or faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church, Zucchi believes this kind of division and focus on internal Church issues is a thing of the past.

"I see people more interested in how I possibly can live and be happy in this world, and less interested in 'issues,' but in how can the faith help me personally in my life."


Zucchi believes the bishops appointed recently and those expected to be appointed from the "quite remarkable pool of talent" in the province "will be really wonderful that way."

Other relatively recent episcopal appointments in Quebec include the assignment of former Quebec Auxiliary Bishop Gilles Lemay to the Amos Diocese and former Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Lionel Gendron, a francophone originally from New Brunswick, to the Saint-Jean-Longueuil Diocese.

Gendron served as rector of Edmonton's St. Joseph Seminary from 1990-94, returning to the position temporarily in 2002.